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Published on: 07/30/15 2:50 PM

Book review: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel`s new collection of shorts is provocatively titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, (HarperCollins UK) and arguably the story by that name is the best read.

There are ten stories, all of them full of what we know as Mantelisms…furniture is described as wilful, someone`s virginity is a wan one, someone leaving Jeddah is `an escapee whose contract was up,` and the like. There are flashes of expected brilliance, and the entirely new take on a young woman dying of some unspecified terminal illness is startling to say the least.

The stories all carry a marked tinge of strangeness. There is the faintly discontented Western woman who is unwilling companion to her husband posted in Jeddah. `I wonder if Jeddah left me forever off-kilter in some way, tilted from the vertical and condemned to see life skewed,` she says. There is the young girl who ventures into verboten territory with a wild young friend. They want a closer look at the something in the big house down the street, something shaped like a comma, something which didn’t have a face but `perhaps a negotiating position for a face, perhaps a loosely imagined notion of a face.` The young girl states firmly, `I had prepared my defense in case I was seen flitting across the fields. I was out punctuating, I would say…looking for a comma.`

There is the husband on the verge of starting an extramarital a. The other woman was droll, her name was Lorraine and she said `it`s so sad to be called after a quiche.` When the wife walks in on them, carrying several glasses, `a tiny chime hung in the air as the glasses shivered in her fingers.` There is the medical assistant to a Harley street doctor who stumbles upon a secret which has nothing to do with her employer. There is the young woman who tries to look at her father`s mistress impersonally, dispassionately. `She was honey -coloured,` says the girl of the woman, `as if she`d had a package holiday…she looked rested, and seldom not-smiling.` When there is a scene between her parents and her mother breaks a baking dish, the young woman quietly goes about putting it together shard by shard, and the endeavour breaks thye reader`s heart.

In the tale where an author of middling popularity goes on yet another book reading at a disused school, there are polished shields on the wall that `…say things like JK Rowling, Cantab 1963.` That is not the only flash of sly humour; in the same story, the author meets a gorgeous young man. `He was so clean, so sweet, so golden that I backed off,` she says, `afraid he must be American and about to convert me to some cult.`

And yes, the last story is about how a housewife opens the door to a contract killer from the IRA on a mission to assassinate the far from popular prime minister of the time, Mrs Margaret Thatcher. Once her fear dies down, and it dies down quickly, the woman finds an affinity with the killer and they begin to discuss just what it is that they hate about Thatcher. This story is downright wicked and well worth the price of the book.

book reviewfictionHilary Mantelshort stoiresThe Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Sheila Kumar • July 30, 2015

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